October 7 – Remembering the Landline

by Sara Etgen-Baker

 

Though landline phones may be on the endangered species list, in the 1950s and before, they were the lifeline of communities. For nearly 100 years, the landline was how we talked with someone who wasn’t in the room with us.

We had only one telephone, a black rotary one, that sat on a built-in phone cubby. There was no caller ID, no robocalls or telemarketers intruding in our lives. So when the phone rang, we were curious. The caller could’ve been anybody, but in truth, the caller was usually one of four or five people who had our telephone number. Morning calls were certain people; probably neighbors and evening calls were relatives. No one called before 9 a.m. or after 10 p.m., and we lived in fear of any call after midnight.

The phone didn’t ring a dozen times a day, and its sound was a kind of minor event. We kids didn’t pick up the phone and answer it, nor did we make a phone call without first asking permission. Father didn’t answer the telephone; answering it fell under the duties of the homemaker. When Mother answered the telephone, we didn’t listen to her conversation, but we knew by her tone whom she was talking with. When we were teenagers, my brothers and I were allowed to make limited telephone calls and answer the telephone.

There’s a wonderous landline moment that doesn’t exist today. The telephone rang after dinner one evening. My brother answered the phone. “Hello,” he said. After a moment, he hollered loud enough to notify the entire household, “Sara, it’s for you; a phrase that is long gone because no one shares a phone anymore. Using his phone etiquette, my brother asked, “Who’s calling?” Then he yelled, “It’s Robert,” a name that had never been said aloud before in our house and the sound of which piqued my parents’ interest. I sprinted to the telephone cubby. “It’s Robert,” he shouted, “that boy from school!” I yanked the phone from him, ignoring his satisfied grin. “Hello,” I said softly. Robert needed to know what time he was picking me up for the sophomore dance. I was tongue-tied and embarrassed, answering him in monosyllables: yes, no, okay, sure, yes. Bye.

Standing at the phone cubby in a household with a landline, the news was now public. I had a crush on Robert, and he was taking me to the dance. The village had been alerted.

There are no such shared moments like these in our homes today. No one stops and listens to the phone ring, wondering who the caller might be. Robocalls, caller ID, and telemarketers have killed our curiosity. Cell phones and instantaneous texting have made the landline extinct. Yet, I yearn for those days of removing the phone’s handset from the cradle, listening for the dial tone, placing my fingers in the number hole, rotating the dial and waiting for that almost magical connection to be made and hearing someone on the other end answer, “Hello.”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

9 responses to “October 7 – Remembering the Landline

  1. This is lovely Sara. I was reminded of these days when the phone was such a different experience. I can also remember days when we had no phone at all and somehow survived 🙂

    • sara etgen-baker

      Yes, having a phone was considered a luxury; we had a “party” line for years because it was cheaper than a private line. Yes, we survived without having to be continuously connect. Thanks for your comment, Ariel.

  2. Your piece brings back so many memories. Things sure have changed due to technology.

    • sara etgen-baker

      thanks for reading the piece, Betty, and for commenting. Technology truly has transformed our day-to-day lives.

  3. Ah yes! Your piece elicited many memories. I am even recalling an older phone in my youth when so many rings were a call. If rings not our own we knew it was a neighbor. The problem was that we could listen to other neighbors calls and vice versa.

    • sara etgen-baker

      I remember that phenomenon, Patricia. Perhaps it occurred because we had a party line. Thanks for reading and commenting

    • sara etgen-baker

      I do remember a similar phenomenon…perhaps because we had a party line. Thanks for reading the piece and commenting.

  4. Brings back so many wonderful memories. I have a lithograph of a rotary phone in my home in appreciation. I grew up with a number of sisters and we all loved to talk to our friends. My father put a 30 foot cord on it so he wouldn’t be bothered by our giggles & gaggles as he read.

  5. sara etgen-baker

    What wonderful memories you have about your phone. I bet your lithograph is quite unique. Good for you! Thanks for reading and sharing.

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